Near-camp levels of nudity mix with artsy pretensions and occasionally some nice acting in Chloe, a movie about, among other things, how much it sucks to get older as a woman.
“Better than the alternative” is the stock joke when people complain about getting older, but for Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) death might sometimes be preferable to fading from the object of her husband’s lust to invisible middle age. Though she is living in a sleek and lovely modern house (which, talk about lust — the wall of windows alone is better than any beefcake photo spread; walk in closets? Grab the smelling salts.) and working as a top doctor in a tony Toronto office, Catherine is distraught over a life she feels helpless to control. Her teenage son Michael (Max Thierot) is all door-slamming anger and her professor husband David (Liam Neeson) is distant. When he fails to come home on the evening of his birthday (when unbeknownst to him, she has organized a fancy surprise party) she suspects that he’s cheating — perhaps with one of his nubile students or one of the many random women (waitresses, etc.) with whom he seems to always be flirting.
Feeling old and despondent, she has a chance meeting with Chloe (Amanda Seyfried, plumped up and glossed to Scarlett Johansson levels) in the bathroom of an expensive restaurant. With her too-fashionable clothes, her too-old date and her regular appearance outside a hotel near Catherine’s office, Chloe is clearly — to Catherine and us — an escort. Drawn — in all sorts of ways — to Chloe’s youth and beauty, Catherine decides to make her bait in a trap for David. He flirts with every woman — does he take it further when Catherine isn’t around?
Late in the film Catherine describes — in a way painfully familiar to every woman who has ever compared her aging process to that of, say, George Clooney — the deep unfairness of getting older and less attractive herself while watching her husband get older and more desirable. It is a rare moment when a movie gives us that woman with those emotions and doesn’t make her a one-dimensional victim or villain. (Though, if Julianne Moore is a dried up shadow of a woman, what are those of us without perfect drapey clothes and airbrushed looks? A word of warning: try hard to stick with the plot and not sink into a black hole of angst over whatever skin/hair/body thing plagues your morning mirror sessions.)
The movie also does some nice stuff with marriage — how it can seem from the outside versus how unknowable the couple can be to each other from inside the marriage. Even more surprising than the fact that Julianne Moore is so openly a middle-aged woman is the fact that Liam Neeson’s character is not, strictly speaking, a villain. He also gets to have some layers, some confusions, some frustrations.
And then there’s Amanda Seyfried, regularly the core of reasonableness in her performances but here very much, well, the opposite. She is all big eyes and flighty wardrobe and a personality that perfectly matches the here-comes-trouble appearance she’s given. From the first lingering shots of her getting dressed to the final absurdities, every bit of subtlety and nuance you find in Neeson and Moore is completely missing from her character. She is sweeps-week soap opera to their delicately crafted short story.
And that’s the trouble with Chloe. For every moment of insight or well-heeled chill, we get some goofy melodrama that kills the mood — particularly in the movie’s final 20 or so minutes. It could be a kind of literary thriller, a suspense movie with a high art sheen, but it strikes off moments that pull you out of the plot and have you watching the movie’s weirdness rather than watching the movie. Or — just as bad for the plot but good for furniture sales — ignoring the story altogether and just fantasizing about the sharp-edged modern décor and the closet full of chic womanly fashions. Chloe isn’t a bad movie but it’s frequently a better catalog. B-
Rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, nudity and language. Directed by Atom Egoyan and written by Erin Cressida Wilson (from the movie Nathalie by Anne Fontaine), Chloe is an hour and 36 minutes long and distributed in wide release by Sony Pictures.